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Aid Efforts in South Lebanon Stifled by Continued Israeli Airstrikes


A new shipment of aid has reached the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, which has been largely cut off from the outside world since Monday. But Red Cross officials say it is still almost impossible to get help to southern villages while Israeli airstrikes continue.

The International Committee of the Red Cross had been trying to get this ship full of relief supplies into the Tyre port for more than a week. The Israeli military finally gave it clearance to dock on Saturday. A crane lifted several 4x4 vehicles off the vessel, bearing trademark Red Cross flags, and then got to work unloading 200 tons of food and other relief supplies.

This port is once again Tyre's only connection to the outside world. The road crossing the Litani River to the north was briefly repaired on Friday, allowing small vehicles to get through with fresh produce. But Israeli airstrikes overnight struck the road north in two different places, once again rendering it unusable.

The Red Cross ship carried packaged meals and baby food. It also offloaded fuel and 100 tons of wheat flour, so local bakeries can again start making bread, the staple food here. The electricity supply in Tyre has been erratic since Israeli air raids struck several parts of south Lebanon's power grid late Friday and early Saturday.

The Red Cross said there are still some 85,000 to 90,000 people south of the Litani, in need of assistance. Spokesman Roland Huguenin said it is critical that Israeli airstrikes be suspended long enough to distribute the aid in villages throughout the south.

"We're very concerned, because, for the past week - seven days, we have had only one permission to reach one village, which was Maarakeh, at which there was 550 families, including lots of young children, and they were really running on very, very slim supplies," he said.

Rockets struck a convoy of several hundred cars fleeing the town of Marjayoun on Friday, killing at least seven people. A Lebanese Red Cross ambulance attempting to treat the wounded was also hit, killing a volunteer medic. It is not the first time Red Cross ambulances have been hit.

"We are very worried, not so much in terms of food, it is desperately needed, but the first and foremost concern we have is the evacuation of casualties," he added. "Whenever there is bombing, or an air raid, or fighting of whatever form, in whatever village, it's just practically impossible to get there and take the casualties back to hospital. This is the first basic principle of Red Cross and of humanity - if somebody is wounded, whether civilian or whatever, he is not in a position to combat, and he needs to be granted the right to be treated."

The U.N. Security Council late Friday adopted a cease-fire resolution, which Hezbollah says it will abide by. However, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also vowed to keep fighting as long as Israeli troops remain on Lebanese soil. Israel's Cabinet is expected to consider the cease-fire resolution on Sunday.

The Red Cross spokesman said, even if the fighting stops, south Lebanon will still need massive humanitarian aid.

"I am sure that lots of the people who have become displaced, if they have reason to believe it is safe to come back, they will want to come back," he said. "The big problem will be for all those who have lost their homes. Some of them will find that their homes have been totally destroyed while they were away. There will be a need for a huge humanitarian operation to help people with housing, with restarting their lives. There is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done, and every little bit of help will be needed."

More than one million people, or about a quarter of Lebanon's population, have fled their homes since the conflict started over a month ago. Israel launched its offensive after Hezbollah militants, based in southern Lebanon, captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Much of the Lebanese infrastructure has been demolished, and villages in the south have been all but flattened.

Despite the talk about a cease-fire, Israel is following through on its earlier decision to widen the ground offensive. An Israeli government spokesman says Israel wants to do everything it can to neutralize Hezbollah's ability to launch rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon.

Israel has tripled the number of ground troops operating in Lebanon, and continued airstrikes south of Tyre. Early Saturday, in central Tyre, just a few blocks from the port, two buildings were heavily damaged by airstrikes, and casualties were reported.